Thursday, December 31, 2015

"The End" Week: Nomad #25!

We saw a lot of set-up for this one previously in a match-up with Dr. Faustus, so here's the conclusion: from 1994, Nomad #25, "American Dreamers, Part Four: Some Times Cry" Written by Fabian Nicieza, pencils by Peter Garcia, inks by Fred Fredericks and Greg Adams. (The font on the title makes it tough to figure out, since "Cry" is in a different style!) With another Michael Golden cover! (I got this issue out of the same mark-down bin I got #19, but hadn't realized it was the last issue right away!)

The man called Nomad, Jack Monroe, has often seemed like a gun-crazed reactionary with a short fuse, but his history may make that understandable: as a child, he had accidentally exposed the fact that his hometown was full of "post-World War II Nazi sympathizers." Sent to a foster home, he was found by the man who would become the commie-fightin' Captain America of the 1950's, would eventually go crazy, end up in suspended animation, wake up and work with the original Cap, then go off to be a gun-toting vigilante. Because of his time frozen, Jack was far younger than his childhood friend Bart Ingrid, a senator gunning for the vice-presidential nomination and secret white supremacist. Jack does gun down the white supremacists, though, since he had remote control of the super-soldier smart gun introduced earlier in the series. He doesn't feel bad for them, but he can't even feel for himself.

Jack later says a tearful goodbye to "Bucky," the baby girl he had been taking care of most of the series. His informant Giscard, the "Favor Banker" tells Jack that both the fringe and the centrists are coming together against him, which Jack suspected since the supremacists had both the smart gun and hired mercenary Zaran. The next day, Senator Ingrid speaks before Congress, to answer the allegations against him, but mainly to try and blow up the place with a briefcase bomb. Jack shows up to stop him with a "stripped-down" version of the smart gun; that still looks to be about the same size and as unwieldy as a 50's vacuum cleaner. Jack shoots Ingrid, who drops his dead-man's switch, blowing up most of the Congressional Building, killing eight. (Jack had given enough time for most of the people to get out, but it seems like that would be a bigger deal!)

Presumed dead, Jack is saved by federal agent Hatch, who has him put in suspended animation again. He'd be back, even if that wouldn't go any better for him than this did. It does seem a shame Brubaker killed him off, since the way America is polarized today, you might be able to get something out of Nomad now...
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"The End" Week: Captain Atom #57!

We mentioned this one last month: it's a War of the Gods crossover! An Armageddon 2001 crossover! The conclusion of the four-part "The Quantum Quest" and the title's last issue! And a complete mess! From 1991, Captain Atom #57, "Elsewhere (Quantum Quest, part 4)" Written by John Ostrander, pencils by Mike Gustovich, inks by Romeo Tanghal. And it's got "The End?" right on the cover!

Captain Atom has been defeated by Shadowstorm, an evil version of Firestorm. (Who was in no way as cool as the Blackest Night version, Deathstorm.) Meanwhile--or "Elsewhere," which is used like 21 times this issue--the War of the Gods raged on, as Waverider searched the possible future timelines of earth's heroes, trying to find and stop the one that would become the tyrant Monarch. And, for some reason, an entire page of Captain Atom's last issue is devoted to the Captain Marvel vs. Lobo brawl from L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #31!

Shadowstorm unleashes the darkness in normal people, turning them into his dark army. But Captain Atom isn't quite beat yet: he had withdrawn into the quantum field that gave him his powers, and created an entire universe (!) to live the life he might have had if he hadn't receved his powers. But, playing God to change the outcome weakened the reality, until Atom destroys it and faces a dark version of himself. (All of which seems a lot more like Solar, Man of the Atom or Dr. Manhattan than Captain Atom.)

After defeating his evil self, Atom confronts Shadowstorm and lures him into attacking with his army, which Atom destroys. (Rather casually, rather than trying to save the people transformed?) Atom has Shadowstorm's number, as they wreck up an Eastern European city, and Shadowstorm turns into another evil version of the Captain! Unknown to them, Dr. Fate and earth's mystic heroes are simultaneously trying to "stabilize a planet made mad by the War of the Gods," while the witch Circe tries to tap into their spell: unknown to any of them, it weakens Shadowstorm through his connection to earth, and Captain Atom destroys him. The Captain then flies away, again somewhat coldly, leaving the damaged city and injured citizens behind, heading for Armageddon 2001...

Somewhat famously, Captain Atom was intended to become the evil Monarch...until a leak forced DC to try and change Monarch's secret identity to Hawk, of Hawk and Dove. This was pretty obviously setting up CA as the baddie--and he didn't have an annual contradicting that, like Hawk and Dove had, either. Still, the Captain had almost five years worth of development, that was virtually ignored ever since; since he's almost always portrayed as the soldier, obeying the orders of his superiors. Even though that doesn't make a lot of sense, considering his origin, either.

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"The End" Week: Unexpected #222!

We checked out the last issue of Weird War Tales last year, but here's another of DC's former stable of supernatural horror comics: from 1982, Unexpected #222, featuring stories by Arnold Drake, Martin Pasko, and Robert Kanigher; with art by Keith Giffen, Marc Silvestri, and Tor F. Infante.

Not unlike that Weird War Tales, this issue is pretty much like most of the rest of the series at that time; with a widower having problems relating to his daughter after his wife's death in delivery, problems both caused and solved by alien intervention. Next, a vampire story where the remorseful bloodsucker tries to stop his rampage; and finally the best of the issue: "No Penny, No Paradise." Alexander the Great has conquered the known world, but a dying Persian proclaims he will never conquer the underworld...when Alexander dies of malaria, he asks for a priceless "Alexandrian penny" to be put in his mouth, to pay Charon for his passage to the underworld. Unfortunately for him, his wine-bearer steals the penny, and Charon turns out to be a real stickler about it. His shade returns to the land of the living for the coin, but his results are mixed...!

Not a modern classic or anything, but I do like early Keith Giffen art. There was a Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation this issue as well, with 10C. Total Paid Circulation: Average no. copies each issue during preceding 12 months: 83,371. Actual no. copies of single issue published nearest to filing date: 76,296. Granted, there were like 150,000 returns, but most publishers would kill for those sales now.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"The End" Week: Moon Knight #12!

I overpaid for a binged-up copy of this issue, but frankly at any price any copy would be too much: from 2012, Moon Knight #12, written by Brian Bendis, art by Alex Maleev and Matt Hollingsworth.

This was supposed to be a major, big-league title: Bendis and Maleev had done a long and successful run on Daredevil, and expectations were high. And...yeah. This was the version of Moon Knight whose multiple personality disorder had manifested as hallucinations of Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, which guided him like imaginary friends. MK also became involved with Echo, who had been an Avenger while disguised as Ronin; but she gets killed by Count Nefaria. (Unseen, I'm 90% sure Echo was straight-up fridged to serve as motivation for the hero's vengeance, but I didn't know if her death had stuck or not...) The plot also involved Madame Masque, Snapdragon, dirty cops, the head of Ultron, and a TV show "Legends of the Khonshu." Admittedly, I'm coming in on the last issue here, but it seems like it's all over the place. In one scene, Nefaria heat-visions his crooked cop down to a red skeleton, and his monocle doesn't even fall off. That should tell you plenty...

Even fighting with Cap's energy shield and knock-off Wolvie claws, Moon Knight is no match for Nefaria, and catches a beating. He gives up the location of the Ultron head, but that's a lie: Nefaria charges into a parking lot full of Avengers, and MK delivers the finishing blow...after Thor has already knocked him out. Heroic. Tony Stark congratulates Spector on his work keeping the Ultron head out of the bad guy's hands; even though Stark had been hunting Spector two series prior during the Initiative. (Stark may have been mindwiped or rebooted since then and not recalled that.) This ties in to the Age of Ultron series somehow, but I'm not sure how: there's some time-travel, and I had kind of thought this issue was retconned away. Echo joins Iron Man and Wolverine in Spector's head, which is somehow presented like a happy ending; and "Legends of the Khonshu" is cancelled, and Spector says he'd "rather die in a robot holocaust than spend another second in Hollywood."

Not good: this series is pretty much forgotten today. In fact, forget I brought it up, OK?
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So, I saw my town's local production of Evil Dead: the Musical a couple months back; and I've watched a couple versions of the play on YouTube since: they did a mighty solid version! The production values were top-notch. And then I bought a ton of discounted fake blood after Halloween, which we'll be overusing later...

Even with a disposable rain smock, I was still pretty bloody on my drive home. No one in my neighborhood said boo. I'm not saying be snoopy, but see something say something, man.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"The End" Week: Star Wars #20!

I've been reading a bit of both, and couldn't really tell you if Marvel's Star Wars comics are necessarily any better or worse than Dark Horse's. I read Marvel's original series and loved them to death, but always read Dark Horse's Star Wars only sporadically. Partially because they had a pretty hefty output for the years they carried the license, 1991 to 2014. This series (set pre-the Empire Strikes Back) wasn't even a year old when the announcement came that the license was going to leave Dark Horse: from 2014, Star Wars #20, written by Brian Wood, art by Carlos D'anda, with a cover by Hugh Fleming.

Seren Song, a childhood friend of Leia's had been working as a spy for years--allegedly since "the very earliest days of the Rebellion," although I don't know if the timeline figures there--and calls Leia when she wants to come in. Simple enough, except she's being tailed by IG-88, and the bounty-hunting droid may have the Millenium Falcon's number:

Still, even an untrained Luke is able to use the Force well enough to shoot down IG-88, and Seren is saved. The secrets she stole from the Empire seem harmless enough, but could hold clues to where the Alliance could hide a secret base...but this would be the end, since the new Marvel stories would have their own continuity.

This was a perfectly fine comic, but per the Comichron sales charts for August, 2014, this issue would come in at #84 for the month with 26,645 copies sold. Per the Beat, Marvel's first issue sold over a million, and the series was still over a hundred thousand six months later.
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"The End" Week: Orion #25!

I had started a write-up for this issue earlier--it is one of my favorites on this list--but I could just say "It's Walt Simonson, it's awesome!" and call it good. From 2002, Orion #25, "Children of the Pact!" Written and penciled by Walter Simonson, inks by Bob Wiacek. (I don't usually note them here, but letters by the awesome John Workman, colors by Tatjana Wood.)

In New York's Central Park Metropolis's Centennial Park, Orion sits by the pond and feels a bit down. But not for long, as he is greeted by Scott Free, better known as Mister Miracle.

For those of you not up on your New Gods theology, Scott and Orion have a weird family dynamic: Highfather of New Genesis and Darkseid of Apokolips entered into a pact where they traded sons, the theory being that each having the other's son would guarantee peace. Darkseid was probably two steps ahead of the game, though: Orion has his dad's temper, and would have a hard time fitting in; while Scott was given to Granny Goodness and her orphanage boot camp and basically tortured for years until he escaped, breaking the pact. On the other hand, Scott ended up married to Big Barda, so maybe he did get the better end of the deal.

Now, here comes a somewhat game-breaking revelation: Scott has the Anti-Life Equation. In fact, he's always had it, since his days on Apokolips: after sneaking out of Granny Goodness's barracks one night, young Scott witnesses a massacre, Darkseid's dog soldiers attacking a slum of the wretched Hunger Dogs. Not knowing his power, Scott accidentally unleashes the Equation, first making the soldiers attack each other, then inadvertantly killing them all, soldier and peasant alike. Disraught, Scott clamps the Equation down, burying its power inside him.

I always felt like that's kind of a big retcon, and that it pretty much breaks Mr. Miracle as a character for further use; but it does add a lot of wrinkles that are interesting. Along with the implication that Highfather as much as gave Darkseid the Anti-Life Equation he'd been searching everywhere for; Scott, a character all about freedom, was now metaphorically shackled by guilt and responsibility. Moreover, Scott wonders how much his dad Highfather knew: did he know, and send Scott to Apokolips for training, seasoning he couldn't get on New Genesis, or as a weapon?

Still, I'm not sure this was ever brought up again; and it's at least a reboot or two back now. The rest of the issue is Orion getting his groove back: Scott is injured by a Parademon attack, on the day he takes flowers to the massacre site on Apokolips. (The Parademons weren't sent by Darkseid, though, but by Metron, who had some suspicions.) Disguised as Mr. Miracle, Orion takes the flowers, but this year Darkseid and Apokolips are waiting: Orion gives a pretty fair showing as Miracle, but then brings the pain when he reveals himself. "You, who were so bold when you thought you'd caged a tabby cat!" He demolishes a good chunk of Apokolips, before leaving the flowers in remembrance, and challenging his father anew.

Meanwhile, back on earth, Metron confronts Scott, having figured it out. Orion overhears and considers simply murdering Metron (who's often portrayed as nicer, but is somewhat ruthless in his pursuit of knowledge) but instead uses Darkseid's "temporal bender" to go back in time and erase the clues Metron found, leaving him in the dark...and altering the timeline so Orion's disguised visit to Apokolips didn't happen, but that's OK. He knows what he needs to do, now; and is grateful for his brother Scott's help.

Easily my favorite story with either Orion or Mr. Miracle. Orion has had a bit of a minor resurgence in the New 52, appearing in Wonder Woman and getting a sharp-looking new figure out of the deal.
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"The End" Week: Blue Devil #31!

On previous "The End" posts we've mentioned that if you're a mid-list DC character, you may have a rich supporting cast--for as long as you have your own book. When that's done, they'll never be seen again. I was going to say the same of this issue, but no, I think I was proven wrong! From 1986, Blue Devil #31, "Hell's Angel" Written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn and Bob Rozakis, art by Dan Jurgens and Gary Martin and Bob Orzechowski and Dave Hunt.

Danny Cassidy's friends throw the Blue Devil a birthday party, which leads to them all being sent to hell, because of course it does. This was pretty much the kind of thing that always happened around "weirdness magnet" Cassidy, but this time it's caused by Lucifer! No, not that one: he was a failing actor, typecast as playing the bad guy and loving it, who decides to become a genuine super-villain. Even without powers, abilities, skills, or timing: Lucifer decides to kill the Blue Devil rather spur of the moment, and at the height of his popularity, just after his movie had won an Academy Award for special effects! (A quick aside: in the DC universe, the Blue Devil movie probably came out in '86 or '87. The Oscar for special effects went to Aliens in 1986, Innerspace in I'm guessing it came out in 1987. Cassidy was a special effects wizard, but he was no Stan Winston!)

After that loss, Lucifer's return engagement involves stealing a mystic book from Madame Xanadu and sending Cassidy and his friends to their own personal hells. For instance, Cassidy's producer, Marla Bloom, is doomed to return to obscurity in her hometown, Syracuse; and his sidekick Kid Devil gets his wish of being promoted to hero but doesn't feel like he can hack it. Lucifer assumes Cassidy's spirit should be crushed, but...

Lucifer is defeated and damned to hell, while everyone else escapes safe and sound, even if most of them probably wouldn't ever be seen again. Ah, but Kid Devil beat the odds, and would return years later in Young Justice and Teen Titans. I'm pretty sure horrible things happened to him in Teen Titans, but DC seemed bound and determined to make Blue Devil as grimdark as they could, why not his sidekick too...
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Monday, December 28, 2015

"The End" Week: Godzilla #24!

We've seen licensed titles like Star Trek here before, books based on properties that could be relaunched any number of times--and not just in comics. I've long since lost track of how many times Godzilla has had his own comic book, but here's one of the earliest: from 1979, Godzilla #24, "And Lo, A Child Shall Lead Them" Written by Doug Moench, pencils by Herb Trimpe, inks by Dan Green.

Over the course of his two-year run, Godzilla had fought various giant mega-monsters, the colossal mecha Red Ronin, the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Dum Dum Dugan, gotten shrunk by Pym particles, traveled in time to meet Devil Dinosaur, and only recently returned to the present and his normal size. So it's somewhat understandable that Big G is going to town on New York City, with the Fantastic Four and Avengers trying to minimize the damage and stop the rampage. The collected heroes are reluctant to kill Godzilla, although Thor wonders if the monster won't force the issue, as he fights to keep Godzilla from toppling the Empire State Building!

Young Rob Takiguchi, grandson of the inventor of Red Ronin, and playing the young boy role so prevalent in Godzilla (or Gamera!) movies; convinces Godzilla to leave. Although heartbroken to see his "friend" go, Rob turns a full-blown disaster into a mere skirmish. Spidey makes a brief appearance before the end, managing to get at least one pic for Jolly Jonah Jameson.

Not unlike other licensed titles like ROM or Master of Kung-Fu or the Micronauts, even with the license lapsing, some characters would still find a home in the Marvel Universe. Red Ronin is probably best known for his appearance in Avengers #198-199. The monster-making villain Dr. Demonicus would go on to another licensed book written by Doug Moench, Shogun Warriors, before facing Iron Man and the West Coast Avengers. In fact, it's implied that Demonicus captured and mutated Godzilla into an almost-unrecognizable form, that may still be kicking around the Marvel Universe to this day...!
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"The End" Week: Thunderstrike #24!

By this point, we've had over a hundred posts tagged "The End," so ofttimes I'm buying new last issues whenever I happen to come across one. Today's book I kind of knew what was coming, even though I hadn't read it before now! From 1995, Thunderstrike #24, "The Storm and the Sacrifice!" Script and plot by Tom DeFalco, plot and pencils by Ron Frenz, finishes by Al Milgrom.

Former replacement-Thor Eric Masterson had been doing pretty well as "the everyman Avenger" Thunderstrike for the last couple years, until he had to take up the Bloodaxe of Skurge the Executioner, in order to save the world from Seth. Now blood-crazed and insane, Thunderstrike and Thor are currently locked in battle; while on a mental plane, Eric, the spirit of Skurge, and Eric's avatar Sparky fight the evil of the Bloodaxe. (I don't know about Sparky, either.) Eric had been pretty desperate to try to use the axe, but had hoped the Avengers would be able to handle him. Skurge sees that as Eric trying to dump his responsibilities on them; spurring Eric to fight for control of his mace and turn it against the axe, sacrificing himself. Eric's last words in this world appear to be, "Hoo-boy!"

Eric is taken to Valhalla, on Thor's behest; but doesn't feel he deserves it. He requests to be released to whatever is next for him, and goes to the next life. Along with Eric's son and girlfriend, Thor mourns the loss of his friend. The letters page has a thank-you from Tom DeFalco, and an ad for Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato's revamp in Thor #491, which I think was planned as a bit of reconsolidation, trimming away some of the deadwood around Thor. (This briefly included Beta Ray Bill, and if you consider him "deadwood," be aware that you are wrong on a deep and spiritual level.) I wonder if Thunderstrike sales weren't above what would normally be cancellation level--in fact, per the Wikipedia page for Thunderstrike, DeFalco may have claimed at one point that Thunderstrike outsold Thor and the Avengers combined at the time of this issue! Although, in DeFalco's defense, you can see Thor and Captain America's current looks here, and all of a sudden it seems a little more plausible.
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"The End" Week: Xander in Lost Universe #8!

I'm trying to get a head start this year, so this fine September morning I'm trying to grind out the first of this year's "The End" posts on the last issues of various comics. And today we start with a title that already had one, but the publisher apparently went under before it could get a third relaunch: from 1996, Xander in Lost Universe #8, "Dark Angel Descending" Written by Ron Fortier, art by Ron Randall.

Sometimes, I'll go out of my way to pick up the last issue of a series, in the hopes that the story will get wrapped up with a neat little bow. No dice this time: just in time for the last issue, we get the secret origin of the title's Big Bad/Bad Girl, Sensua. Although she appeared to be a woman with a penchant for leather jumpsuits and open tops, sadism, and universal domination; here it's revealed that Sensua was actually an energy being, dating back nearly to the start of the universe. After she devours one of the alien Wehni, she becomes addicted to their "nearly limitless power" and wants to consume the entire race. She hunts them for about a billion years or so, but the Wehni had long ago escaped to a "Lost Universe" she couldn't reach. Still, Sensua notices humanity and other races evolving; and while they were powerless and feeble, they were inventive...

Merging with an unborn baby, Sensua is able to take human form, although her mother seems to notice her evil immediately. Along with a genius-level intellect, Sensua also discovers (quickly, and easily) how to manipulate men; even using her wiles to start an intergalactic war. From there, behind the scenes, she creates the Federation Plan*Net; all part of her plan to use humanity to find the Wehni. Six hundred years later, the framing device for this issue is Sensua telling her story to a cat burglar, but he's merely a creation of her power, something for her to talk to until she gets bored.

The Lost Universe titles were based on notes from Gene Roddenberry, so I couldn't say how much of this was based on his work, or was Fortier's creation. I know Roddenberry's Andromeda also featured a Starfleet/Federation analog that didn't entirely live up to its ideals, but a nearly omnipotent femme fatale doesn't seem like the type of detail he would've included. This issue also featured part five of Tekno/Big's crossover "The Big Bang" (referred to as "The Big Crossover," in house ads) but while six first issues and a #0 were planned for April 1996, I'm not sure they were ever published! You could kind of tell they were hemorrhaging money, since their first issues had Bill Sienkiewicz covers, then Jae Lee, then whoever...

I had considered blogging the rest of the series before getting to this issue, but it wasn't great: every time it seemed to settle on a direction, it would shift just as quickly.
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Friday, December 25, 2015

"How Deadpool saved assisted didn't wreck had Christmas."

It's not a perennial holiday classic...yet; but I rerun this one every Christmas.

As usual, click to unwrap, er, enlarge. Not sure of the setup? The first strip's waaaay back here.

What the heck, you've been good this year...he says, based on nothing; so let's have another holiday re-run: "Jingle Bells, Blame Mattel..."

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